Top Engineers – Robert Ludwig

Cream / Heavy Cream – Not Recommended

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Sonic Grade: D

A Polydor Double LP mastered by Robert Ludwig.

The tonal balance is right on the money, but of course, because this is a compilation, it is made from copies of the master tapes, not real master tapes themselves, so it will always have that blurry, smeary, opaque, airless, sub-generation tape quality sound.

Hey, that’s what we hear on most of the Heavy Vinyl we audition. Imagine that.


Led Zeppelin / Houses of the Holy – Listening in Depth

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You really get an understanding of just how much of a production genius Jimmy Page was when you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found on our best copies.

To take just one example, listen to how clearly the multi-tracked guitars can be heard in the different layers and areas of the soundstage. On some songs you will have no trouble picking out three, four and even more guitars playing, each with its own unique character. The clarity of the better copies allows you to recognize — perhaps for the first time — the special contribution each makes to the finished song.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song

Check out the guitars — the sound should be warm, sweet and delicate. There are some dead quiet passages in this song that are almost always going to have some surface noise. Most copies start out a bit noisy but almost always get quieter as the music goes along.

Over the Hills and Far Away

This is a great test track for side one. It starts with lovely acoustic guitars before the Monster Zep Rock Chords come crashing in. If both parts of the song sound correct and balanced, you more than likely have a winner. And the bigger the dynamic contrast between the parts the better.

Turn your volume up good and high in order to get the full effect, then stand back and let the boys have at it.

The Crunge (more…)

AC/DC – For Those About To Rock

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  • Once again Robert Ludwig delivers the Rock and Roll Power – incredibly big, bold and full-bodied with a massive bottom end
  • For Those About To Rock has wall to wall sound and in-the-room presence like you will not believe
  • “AC/DC are the real thing, perhaps the purest major practitioners of hot and snotty rock since Led Zeppelin lumbered off the boards. Other groups, from Van Halen to REO Speedwagon, may base their music on similar elements, but they inevitably emerge from the studio sounding cleaned up and rather too eager for AOR airplay. AC/DC, from the start, have always left the rough edges in. The rough edges are the point, much as they were part of the point of, say, Little Richard in the Fifties or the Rolling Stones in the mid-Sixties.” – Rolling Stone

From the moment the title track began, we knew we were in for a real treat. The transparency and clarity are shocking — we heard texture on the guitars and room around the drums that simply weren’t to be found elsewhere, plus tons of echo and ambience. The vocals simply could not be any better — they’re breathy and full-bodied with loads of texture.

The bottom end is Right On The Money — big, beefy, and rock-solid.

You probably never thought you’d ever use an AC/DC LP as a Demo Disc, but this copy will have you reconsidering that notion — it’s ALIVE with Rock and Roll Power Chords like nothing you have ever heard. (more…)

The Band Rock Of Ages – Turn Up Your Volume, Now It Rocks!

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Most copies of this album do not have a boosted bottom or top, which means that at normal listening levels — depending on how you define that term — they can sound pretty flat. This is one album that needs to be turned up, obviously not to the levels of a live rock concert, but up about as loud as you can until you can get the bass and the highs to come out. We found ourselves adding more and more level in order to get the sound to come to life, and it was playing pretty loud before the sound was right.  

But it’s SO GOOD when it’s loud. Why the hell would you not want to crank it up and ROCK OUT? (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

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  • This vintage Atlantic pressing boasts a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one and has no marks that play or excessive amounts of surface noise, which makes it a very special copy indeed
  • Wall to wall, floor to ceiling Led Zeppelin power – this copy delivers like you will not believe, or your money back
  • A Better Records Top 100 album (along with 4 other Zep titles), 5 Stars in AMG and a True Zeppelin Must Own Classic
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars heard here should be a wake up call to every audiophile that trying to remaster this album is just not in the cards
  • 5 stars: “Jimmy Page’s riffs rely on ringing, folky hooks as much as they do on thundering blues-rock, giving the album a lighter, more open atmosphere…”

This copy has the kind of BIG, BOLD ROCK SOUND that takes this music to places you’ve only dreamed it could go. The HUGE drums on this copy are going to blow your mind — and probably your neighbors’ minds as well.

And what would a Zep record be without bass? Not much, yet this is precisely the area where so many copies fail. Not so here. The bottom end is big and meaty with superb definition, allowing the record to ROCK, just the way you know Zep wanted it to.

The vocals too are tonally correct. None of the phony upper-midrange boost that the Classic suffers from is evident on this copy. The louder Robert Plant screams the better he sounds and the more I like it. The Classic makes me wince. (more…)

Eric Clapton / At His Best – But Is It?

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Sonic Grade: D

This pressing, along with the rest of the series, was mastered by Robert Ludwig. The sound may be as rich and full as we described it years ago, but the tapes RL had to work with were dubs, so the sound is not up to audiophile standards, not ours anyway.

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.

Led Zeppelin / II – Stan Ricker Versus Robert Ludwig

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

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Here is the story of my first encounter with a amazing sounding copy of Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.

The Mobile Fidelity didn’t sound Bad. It sounded Not As Good. More importantly, in comparison with the good domestic copy, in many ways it now sounded wrong.

Let me tell you, it was a watershed moment in my growth as a record collector. I had long ago discovered that many MoFi’s weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But this was a MoFi I liked. And it had killed the other copies I had heard in the past.

So I learned something very important that day. I learned that hearing a good pressing is the best way to understand what’s wrong with a bad pressing. (more…)

Van Morrison / His Band And Street Choir – An All But Forgotten Classic

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Reviews and Commentaries for Van Morrison

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This is the album that came out between Moondance (in the same year in fact, 1970) and Tupelo Honey, but for some reason, it don’t get no respect. We think that’s insane — the material on this album is stellar and the sound on the best pressings is out of this world!

For years I thought that Moondance was the best sounding album in the Van Morrison catalog. His Band And Street Choir is even better. One reason for that would have to be that Robert Ludwig mastered it, and he can usually be counted on to do an excellent job.

I wasn’t familiar with this album at all. I knew a couple of the big songs from it: Domino and Blue Money, and that was about it. But this is prime Van Morrison; 1970 was a very good year for him. As I played through the album I was surprised to discover that every track is good; there is simply no filler here. The tracks on each side flow seamlessly from one to the next. The result is an exceptionally involving listening experience.

Warner Bros. Green Label Magic

We’ve made a habit of scooping up all the Green and Gold Label Warner Brothers records we come across, albums by the likes of James Taylor, Van Morrison, America, Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers, Peter Paul and Mary, The Association, The Faces, The Grateful Dead and more.

When you get good pressings of these albums they just can’t be beat. They sound so right in so many ways that you find yourself ignoring the sound and just getting lost in the music. This is one of those albums. Drop the needle on any track for a taste of real ’60s and ’70s Tubey Magical analog and some lovely blue-eyed soul.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Domino 
Crazy Face 
Give Me a Kiss 
I’ve Been Working 
Call Me up in Dreamland 
I’ll Be Your Lover, Too

Side Two

Blue Money 
Virgo Clowns 
Gypsy Queen 
Sweet Jannie 
If I Ever Needed Someone 
Street Choir

Rolling Stone

By Jon Landau
February 4, 1971

If Moondance had a flaw it was in its perfection. Sometimes things fell into place so perfectly I wished there was more room to breathe. Every song was a polished gem, and yet too much brilliance at the same time and in the same place can be blinding. The album would have benefited by some changes in mood and pace along the way. One or two light and playful cuts would have done the job.

On His Band and the Street Choir he seems to have realized that and has tried for a freer, more relaxed sound. Knowing he could not come up with another ten songs as perfectly honed as those on Moondance, he has chosen to show another side of what goes on around his house.

“Give Me A Kiss,” “Blue Money,” “Sweet Jannie” and “Call Me Up In Dreamland” are all examples of Van’s new, rollicking, good-timey style.

As if to balance this assortment of light material, there is a group of down tunes all identified by the prominent use of acoustic lead guitar: “Crazy Face,” “I’ll Be Your Lover Too” and “Virgo Clowns.” The former is about a man who pulls out a gun and announces, “I got it from Jesse James.” The other two are simple love songs, the latter urging the girl to “Let your love come fill the room.”

On the rocking material the arrangements involving the whole band are kept to a simple minimum, with most of the creative sounds coming from the high pitched horn section. On the ballads, the rhythm section is kept loose with the lead acoustic predominating, and the horns, again, adding a distinctive and unexpected touch. Van’s singing is as smooth and powerful as it’s ever been.

The creative core of the album lies in four songs. “Gypsy Queen” is a sort of tribute to the Impressions that doesn’t really sound like the Impressions. It merely gives Van an excuse to use his falsetto, which he does brilliantly. “I’ve Been Working” is one of two songs on the album that makes direct use of Van’s roots in modern soul music. The born riff could have found its way to a James Brown session without any problems. The chorus in which the horns and Van’s voice come together to say “Woman, woman, woman, you make me feel alright” is breathtaking. And the rhythms especially bass, drums, and guitar are an awful lot funkier than one would have expected.

As “Domino” opens the album with a show of strength, “Street Choir” closes it with a burst of both musical and poetic energy which is not only better than anything else on the album but may well be one of Van’s two or three finest songs. Here, the keyboard holds the arrangement together, while the Street Choir enhances the chorus as they do only as well on “Call Me Up In Dreamland.”

His Band and the Street Choir is a free album. It was recorded with minimal over-dubbing and was obviously intended to show the other side of Moondance.

In his own mysterious way. Van Morrison continues to shake his head, strum his guitar and to sing his songs. He knows it’s too late to stop now and he quit trying to a long, long time ago. Meanwhile, the song he is singing keeps getting better and better.

Van Morrison: Rock on.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

Making Audio Progress 

We Get Letters 

We Was Wrong

Billy Joel – The Stranger

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  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound, this pressing of Joel’s 1977 breakthrough album (thanks Phil!) is outstanding from top to bottom – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Tonally correct, solid, open, clear, with plenty of hard-rockin’ energy and present vocals, what’s not to like?
  • The Stranger, Only the Good Die Young, Vienna, Just The Way You Are, Movin’ Out, She’s Always A Woman – some of Joel’s strongest songwriting can be found right here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “None of his ballads have been as sweet or slick as “Just the Way You Are”; he never had created a rocker as bouncy or infectious as “Only the Good Die Young”; and the glossy production of “She’s Always a Woman” disguises its latent misogynist streak… Joel rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable.”

We recently completed a shootout for the album and this was one of the better copies we heard. After playing a stack of mediocre Strangers, we are completely confident in saying that you’ll have a very hard time finding a copy that sounds this good.

The Stranger is chock full of some of Joel’s biggest hits, including Just The Way You Are, Movin’ Out, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, Only The Good Die Young and She’s Always A Woman. AMG raves about this one (4 1/2 stars) and it’s easy to see why — this is the kind of pop music that still sounds fresh 40 years (!) after it was recorded and might just be good for another forty years. (more…)

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

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Reviews and Commentaries for Brothers in Arms

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Tonally correct from start to finish, with a solid bottom and fairly natural vocals (for this particular recording of course), HERE is the sound they were going for in the studio
  • Drop the needle on So Far Away – it’s airy, open, and spacious, yet still rich and full-bodied
  • 4 stars: “One of their most focused and accomplished albums … Dire Straits had never been so concise or pop-oriented, and it wore well on them.”

*NOTE: On side one, two marks make 5 moderate to light pops at the end of Track 2, Money for Nothing, and 10 moderate to light pops followed by 5 light ticks at the beginning of Track 5, Why Worry. On side two, a tiny mark makes 5 moderate pops followed by 7 light ticks near the beginning of Track 4, Brothers in Arms.

Fully extended from top to bottom with a wide-open soundstage, this is the sound you need for this music. There’s plenty of richness and fullness here as well — traits that are really crucial to getting the most out of a mid-’80s recording like this!

Drop the needle on So Far Away — it’s airy, open, and spacious, yet incredibly rich and full-bodied. The bottom end really delivers the goods — it’s punchy and meaty with healthy amounts of tight, deep bass. (more…)